Monthly Archives: May 2016

God’s Own Faith

Hebrews 11
1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for…
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

On Faith:
Verses 2 & 39 • Com·mended – entrusted someone [with] or something to.

It’s obvious to us that faith is an indication of our trust in God. That’s our confidence and assurance but these verses tell us that long ago “God had planned something better” that includes us today. These “by faith” verses are the record of those ancients’ faith that God had entrusted/commended them with. Our faith today’s is the same: God’s Own Faith entrusted to us so we can understand:
V3 the mystery of creation
V4 the choice of our offerings to him
V7 how to build our obedience
V8 he is there in unfamiliar circumstances
V17 testing is sometimes the sacrifice
V20 that he can redeem deceit
V22 the need to remember his history
V24 we have our identity in him
V31 we can live beyond the past

That’s “perfect.”

Making a Connection

Hebrews 10
22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The first thing that came to my mind when I read “not giving up meeting together” was Sunday School. I’m not talking about “school” where you sit and someone tells you what you’re supposed to know. I’m talking about a Sunday place where we actually have the opportunity to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” It’s easy for us to see the value of Sunday School for children but for many adult believers, Sunday school is not on their radar. That’s a missed opportunity.

The success story of a recent adult Sunday school class became these words of Jesus; “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” What was it we were supposed to deny ourself of? Was taking up that cross only about personal sacrifice or did it include the burden of personal flaws as well? Was that cross meant to just be a discipline or was it something that connected us to Christ and each other?

One woman shared her personal experience of learning from Christ what it was like to take up her cross and follow him. She pleaded with him to take her cross and he did, because it was too big and heavy. She chose a much smaller cross instead and for a while that seemed good. After a time though, that cross started to feel too big and heavy too, just as the original one had. She went to Christ once more and he agreed to let her leave that heavy cross with him again and choose the smaller one again. That was when Jesus spoke this truth to her; the cross that seemed so small to her…now…was the original one she’d left with him before. Think about that.

That Sunday school discussion went beyond agreement to become a lesson in faith. Christ is ready to help us deal with our cross, over and over again. That’s “the full assurance that faith brings…for he who promised is faithful.”

That kind of Sunday school is where one person’s faith can add insight that encourages your own. That’s growth.

That kind of Sunday school is about the opportunity to give the depth of personal experience with Christ a face other than your own. That’s intimacy.

That kind of Sunday school is Making a Connection with Christ and other believers.

Oh, and there’s donuts and coffee too! Hope to see you there this Sunday.

Simplicity and Complexity

Hebrews 10
1. The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship…8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The challenge of so many words of simple truth repeated in slightly different ways made this chapter seem complicated to me. I finally had to re-read these 14 verses in the light of a 3-point philosophy of writing I learned way back in junior high. My “aha” moment came when I realized that Simplicity and Complexity have to coexist in the life of a believer.

1 – Tell them what you’re going to tell them:
• “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—…”
2 – Tell them what you want to tell them:
• “…we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
3 – Tell them what you’ve told them:
• “For by one sacrifice he [Christ] has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

There’s more to these words than just reading and agreeing. The simple part is the truth that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The complex part is recognizing that within us the deep and mysterious truth of “once and for all” and “made perfect forever” coexists with the reality of our life; we are still “being made holy.”

A New System

Hebrews 9
11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

That one phrase “the good things that are now already here” reminded me of the “beginning” in Genesis when God repeatedly used that word “good” to describe his creation. Then he turned it over to mankind to manage and maintain.

The priestly system had seemed so reasonable and efficient but turned out to be not good enough. Our value to God is so much more than what “this creation” [us], can come up with to manage and maintain what God has created. There’s A New System that does not confuse ritual with redemption.

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here…” [us], he brought us relief from the confusion of whether our value to God is in ritual that makes us “outwardly clean” or redemption, through him, that can “cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death.” We no longer have to depend on the ability of creation to fix itself!

Open Concept Faith

Hebrews 9
1-2 Now in that first agreement between God and his people there were rules for worship and there was a sacred tent down here on earth. Inside this place of worship there were two rooms…this part was called the Holy Place. 3 Then there was a curtain, and behind the curtain was a room called the Holy of Holies…6 Well, when all was ready, the priests went in and out of the first room whenever they wanted to, doing their work. 7 But only the high priest went into the inner room, and then only once a year, all alone with blood that he sprinkled on the mercy seat as an offering to God to cover his own mistakes and sins and the mistakes and sins of all the people…9 This has an important lesson for us today…The people had to keep these rules to tide them over until Christ came with God’s new and better way.

Sunday Thoughts:
The design and function of this place of worship, this “sacred tent down here on earth” is more than a description of a place, it’s a picture of us. God certainly had us pegged didn’t he? This earthly-body place of worship has those same two rooms; an outer one and an inner one.

That first system was comfortable, most of the time. The outer room, a Holy place, was maintained to make sure it was possible to get to that inner room with it’s limited access. The inner room was the place where “mistakes and sins” could be dealt with by the right person at the right time and “all alone.”

Faith compartmentalized like that is comfortable for us. We do have a place we can manage the maintenance of that Holy outer room. We call it church. We have someone we call pastor or priest we can depend on doing their best work to make us acceptable to God. But there’s still that curtained-off room where Holy is actually changed into Holiness.

“This has an important lesson for us today.” There is no more need for separate rooms to “tide us over.” No more mere maintenance waiting for the right time to come. No more limited access. No more “all alone.” “Christ came with God’s new and better way,” Open Concept Faith.

The Revised Story

Hebrews 8:10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
11 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

The Revised Story
There was no confusion about Adam and Eve’s genealogy. God had created them himself and placed his own DNA within them. The tragic story of what they lost when they were expelled from that first Garden became human destiny. They had to leave minus God’s genetic link; his own DNA.
DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid. 1. a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information.

Our genealogy was created there in the Garden and that never changed. We are still God’s creation…but with that big genetic loss. We no longer carry God’s unique and perfect DNA within us but Hebrews tells us The Revised Story.

Adam and Eve’s loss no longer has to be our destiny. We no longer need to be satisfied with just a cover-up. God has dealt with our genetic loss with his promise: “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

A Big Shake-Up

Hebrews 7:11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? 12 For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. 13 He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.

Barclay on Hebrews 7: “…religion is access to God…That was the theory of the matter. But in practice life showed that was precisely what the priesthood and the sacrificial system could not do. There was no escaping the human estrangement from God which followed sin; and the problem was that not all the efforts of the priesthood and not all the sacrifices could restore that lost relationship.”

There’s a whole slew of words that might apply to this odd [and confusing] reference to Melchizadek who apparently had no genealogy at all. Call it an allegory, parable, analogy or metaphor. No matter which word you choose it speaks of a change that was A Big Shake-Up.

Jesus has completed the complexity and confusion of that old system to restore us to God. It’s called the reality of grace and forgiveness. We no longer need to be in the right place at the right time making the right sacrifice to cover the right rule…it’s finished.

The Safety of a Useful Crop

Hebrews 6:4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

These people are “enlightened,” thought, decision and discipline are key to their faith. They’ve “tasted the heavenly gift.” Their faith has also included feeling and experiencing the power and goodness of God. These people “have shared in the Holy Spirit” and yet they “have fallen away” and there’s no going back. Why hasn’t their faith kept them safe?

How in the world do rain and crops fit in? Maybe knowledge about God is like the rain. It falls often, and broadly, over the land preparing large portions of it to be able to grow. Our faith may be our personal plot of land drinking in the rain and prepared to grow…but there’s a big difference between a muddy field and a useful crop. Maybe our blessing is The Safety of a Useful Crop.

Therefore Let Us…

Hebrews 6:1 Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And God permitting, we will do so.

Sunday Thoughts:
I would much rather be told what moving “beyond the elementary” looks like than to be reminded I haven’t. So after the warnings in Chapter 5, I’m grateful for the encouragement of this first part of Chapter 6 that begins “Therefore Let Us…”

Those three words include you and me – we are “us.” Us means I am not trying to figure this out all alone.  Jesus secured the foundation of our repentance for “us” with his forgiveness and his promises. God has revealed himself to “us” in his Word and in the sacramental events of faith. Worship is an opportunity for “us” to “…be taken forward to maturity…And God permitting, we will do so”…together.